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Didion's 'Year' cops top book honor

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NEW YORK A Hollywood glow hovered over the years biggest book kudofest.

Joan Didions The Year of Magical Thinking took the nonfiction prize at the National Book Awards Wednesday night in Gotham, while in fiction, William Vollmans Europe Central staged an upset.

The gut-wrenching Thinking is partly about the sudden loss of Didions husband, writer and work partner John Gregory Dunne. The couple had deep Hollywood roots, collaborating on screenplays for such well-known pics as A Star Is Born and True Confessions, the latter based on Dunnes novel. Dunne also wrote The Studio, a penetrating account of 20th Century Fox.

Didion bested other books that could see bigscreen, including 9/11 saga 102 Minutes, which has been optioned by Columbia.

In the days leading up to the awards, ICMs Ron Berstein was shopping Didions book to studios along with fiction nominee and presumptive favorite The March, a Civil War epic by E.L. Doctorow. Both books hadnt sold by the time of the awards.

Despite lukewarm B.O. for Cold Mountain, a Civil War National Book Award nominee that went on to become a Miramax pic, Bernstein said he expected The March to sell to a studio and prosper at B.O. Its a different book, Bernstein said. Its inherently more commercial. Doctorow penned novels on which pics Billy Bathgate and Ragtime are based.

Kudofest judges also had pic ties. Andre Dubus III, whose House of Sand and Fog was a DreamWorks hit in 2003, and Mark Bowden, who penned a book that led to the movie Black Hawk Down, judged fiction and nonfiction, respectively.

The prizes were a return this year to more traditional choices after last years nominees were criticized for being too obscure.

Though sales bump for National Book Award winners are usually modest, winning novel often has life onscreen. In addition to Cold Mountain, recent winners include The Corrections, which is being developed by Robert Zemeckis.

Also at the fete, Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Toni Morrison presented a lifetime achievement award to Norman Mailer, who accepted by bantering with his introducer about what Morrison (sort of) jokingly called his obtuseness with women.

But heart-wrenching moment of the night came when Didion, looking disoriented, accepted her prize. Theres hardly anything I can say about this award except thank you, she said, and quickly left the stage.

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